Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
September 12, 2005

Pieces of the Past
Reports by Philadelphia Inquirer reporters from Hurricane Katrina

When people are uprooted by a natural disaster, what they salvage assumes great importance. For the victims of Hurricane Katrina, dashing from the storm's path, that alchemy multiplied hundreds of thousands of times.

Some of the objects the displaced clung to were sensible, chosen to provide comfort in the dehumanizing anonymity of an emergency shelter.

Some were practical, items that would ease the process of rebuilding.

Some were emotional, touchstones of a past that would never be replaced.

Upon such fragments - a blanket, a photo, a shard of stained glass - a future may, must, be built.

- Andrew Maykuth

Pat Walker

She fled her flooded trailer in Gulfport, Miss., with her memories - a cardboard box containing two bound books, some letters, and a few cards.

One book is covered with gold cloth and commemorates her parents' 50th anniversary, in 1979. The other is a memorial to her mother, who died two years ago. She also saved a pamphlet from her brother's funeral in 2002.

"I have to have these memories," said Walker, 70, flipping through the books outside a Gulfport elementary school being used as a shelter. "They remind me of my family."

Walker and her husband, Jim, who is retired from the Air Force, recently sold their four-bedroom house and moved into the trailer. Now, almost everything is gone. They will probably move to Houston to live with her son. But first she has to make sure her granddaughter and her three children find a permanent home. They lost their Gulfport house, too.

"I want to get them settled," she said. "I can't leave my babies."

Bubbly and flirtatious, Walker believes God put her on Earth to love people. "One day at a time," she said, smiling. "That's all God gave us."- Amy Worden

Linda Temple

As the flood came, Temple fled with her family to the New Orleans Convention Center. A relative set them up in a private conference room there, so Temple thought she was safe. She and her husband had grabbed a few things - vital documents, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards for her four children, ages 3 to 8.  

Linda Temple and one of her daughters awaits an evacuation flight at the New Orleans airport.

But the convention center, crowded with displaced residents, became lawless.

"It got real terrible," said Temple, 25. Some evacuees "didn't have any respect for anything."

Temple's family barricaded their room. But frantic people pounded on the door, convinced the group had secret supplies of water, food and ice. At night, said Temple, who is two months pregnant, they could hear screams and cries for help. They took turns guarding the door with a knife.

Finally, after a week trapped in a building foul with urine and feces, the desperate family boarded a bus to Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. They did not know where they were being flown.

Contacted by cell phone a few days later, Temple said her family had been relocated to Lubbock, Texas, more than 850 miles from their home. They have a small, safe place in a shelter that has activities for the children.

"They don't really know what's going on, and that's the best thing," she said.

Temple doubts she'll return to New Orleans. "Being in the convention center made something come out from inside of me that I never wanted to come out." - Chris Gray

John Cummings

Waiting for a boat that would return him to his home in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, Cummings joked that the director of the city's aquarium wanted to borrow his house as a satellite branch.

He was sad about the storm's damage but optimistic the city "will rebuild, better. The day will come when this is all in the rearview mirror."

Cummings was returning to his flooded house to collect some belongings. "I've got to get my daughter's clothes," he said. "The only reason I came was to get her clothes."

Cummings, 68, is the father of eight children ages 16 to 40. The youngest, Kate, a junior in high school, won't be returning to her private girls' school, where she was at the top of her class. Instead, she's now registered in Texas, where her family has relocated until it is safe to move back to Jefferson Parish.

Cummings said it was important that his daughter have some of her old clothes, not just replacements.

"There's nothing like that favorite skirt," he said. "She said, 'Dad, when you go into my room, the closet on the left, can you take everything?' She also wanted a jacket, her jacket. She said, 'It's somewhere in the house.' " - Natalie Pompilio

James Savage

National guardsmen were helping Savage and two friends flee New Orleans. But first the guardsmen from Ohio searched the friends' luggage. Inside the socks and sweat pants, the guardsmen discovered the bottles.

"Damn!" Savage yelped each time they pulled out his cognac and gin. "You guys find everything."

The Guard commander said the rules were simple: No weapons. No alcohol.

Savage, 41, also brought out his family's silverware, wrapped in a pink towel. He uncovered it slowly and held out the tarnished forks, knives and spoons for the guardsmen to see.

"It was my mother's and her mother's. My grandmother's," he said haltingly. With the soldiers' approval, he carefully placed them back in his bag.

Spec. Frank Ranalli continued searching the men's possessions. He looked up at them after finishing with another duffel.

"I'm proud of you guys," he said. "This whole bag, no alcohol!"- Natalie Pompilio

Angie Rodgers

She was visiting a friend's apartment in Gulfport, Miss., when the storm approached. So Rodgers took the only thing she had: a black macrame purse containing her glasses, a comb and her ID.

"I just started running," she said. "I just took what I had."

Rodgers, 44, has had no permanent residence since she was released from prison two years ago. She's been drifting among the houses of friends. She fears she won't be able to get a job in another state because she is on probation for forging checks at the Biloxi casinos. Her home for now is the Red Cross shelter.

Rodgers said she fell frequently. And she lost all feeling in her right leg two years ago, she said, after the Alzheimer's patient she was caring for mistook her for a burglar and shot her.

"It's been rough," she said.

An addiction to gambling got her in trouble, she said, so she's happy the storm wiped out the casinos. She was still trying to reach relatives, although she has not spoken with her 27-year-old daughter for a while.

"She doesn't think much of my lifestyle," Rodgers said.

But she thinks the hurricane has given her a chance to start a new life. She has taken on a volunteer job as receptionist at the shelter.

"I'm scared to leave," she said. "I feel safe here, and I don't have a home to go back to." - Amy Worden

Carolyn Landry

She and her husband, Erwin, built their dream home 10 years ago by the Wolf River and Little Bay in De Lisle, Miss. She's a retired flight attendant, he's a retired battalion chief for the Toledo, Ohio, Fire Department. He grew up in Mississippi, so they retired there.

Their home had a long driveway and a boathouse amid the pines and palmettos about 30 miles east of New Orleans. They even installed a 120-year-old stained-glass window from their old house in Toledo.

Now their home is a field of rubble, flattened by the hurricane's wind and water.

"That was my bedroom," Landry said, pointing to where the master suite once was. "And that was my shower."

They picked through the mess and recovered what they could. A piece of Carolyn's parents' wedding china. An anniversary glass. Her high school yearbook, damp but salvageable.

Then they collected fragments of stained glass, memories of their prime in Ohio. The shards glistened in the sun.

Would they rebuild?

"I don't know if we can. We put everything we had into this home, and it's all gone.

"But these few things," she said of the bits of china, glass and paper, "these we'll save." - Tony Gnoffo

Jayne Davis

She was fortunate. She rode out Hurricane Katrina in one of the most heavily damaged neighborhoods in Pascagoula, Miss. If she had stayed home, she said, she might have been among the 30 who perished in the St. Charles Condominiums.

After the storm, she made her way back to those condos to see what was left. The only possession she could find was a large bronze cross.

"We should have this blessed," she told her husband.

He replied, "I believe it already is."- Tony Gnoffo

Marie Galatas

The 65-year-old widow refused to leave her New Orleans house.

"It's as neat as a pin," she said. "I'm going to stay here forever. I'm going to stay here until it opens up."

Despite a week of oppressive humidity and no water or electricity, Galatas kept herself as tidy as her Uptown house. She was dressed in a pressed pantsuit. Her hair was styled, and her jewelry - gold earrings, rings and necklace - was in place. She said she bathed and washed her hair each day in water she had stored in tubs and pots before the storm.

She uses flashlights and candles at night. When she needs something, she drives to the town of Vacherie, 35 miles west.

Galatas, a Baptist minister, said she was not afraid to be in her home alone. But she was not naive. She was armed.

"I'm a minister, but I will become Annie Oakley. You know who Annie Oakley is?" she said. "I'll say, 'In the name of Jesus, come out!' Pow! Pow! Pow!" - Natalie Pompilio

Tom Cruise

National guardsmen clearing New Orleans of residents asked Cruise and his wife, Gail, to leave their Mid City home. Cruise clutched his 11-year-old mutt, Tila, and sobbed.

Cruise, 48, said he knew what was coming. He refused to let it happen.

"I would rather walk to Baton Rouge than give up my dog," he said. "It's 60 miles. I can do that in three days. But I'm not giving up my dog."

The Cruises had weathered the storm with four other families. They had gas and a generator. They had helped other people evacuate, even using toolboxes to float them to safety. But he felt no need to leave.

"I've survived this better than anybody," he said. "The only reason I gotta leave is the dead bodies, the stench and the diseases."

He turned to the silent guardsmen as they waited for a truck to evacuate them. "I'm not leaving my dog. You can't make me leave my dog."

The soldiers did not respond. Cruise walked away, still holding Tila. His wife followed him quietly. - Natalie Pompilio

Joyce Mack and
Myrna McMillan Pradus

The sisters escaped New Orleans before the floodwaters engulfed their neighborhood. Pradus is pretty sure her one-story house on Elysian Fields Avenue is gone. Mack fears her second-floor apartment nearby was inundated, too.

Joyce Mack, left, and her sister Mryna McMillan Pradus.

They ended up in a shelter at the River Center in Baton Rouge, more than an hour from their native New Orleans. They and other relatives were sleeping on cots on the convention center floor.

"We're in agony here," said Pradus, 65.

The sisters grew up in the city. Pradus is retired on disability after throwing out her back. Mack works at the Sisters of St. Joseph, doing maintenance at the convent. "We don't know any other place, really," said Mack, 64.

The Red Cross volunteers at the shelter have been helpful, they said. But some people in Baton Rouge, whose population has swollen with displaced people, were brusque when the sisters tried to locate the Social Security office to reroute their benefits.

"We all have the faith they will repair the city and we will go back," Mack said. But Pradus is trying to suppress her doubts about their future.

"We have to go back and see for ourselves and face reality," she said.

"I have to get my mind together, but that's still my home. We still have our house keys. My keys are hanging around my neck, honey. They may never leave."- Andrew Maykuth home page   
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